When it comes to six player games, you’ll usually need to invest in an expansion (or two) — or look to your collection of party games — in order to satisfy your guests. Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is that rare and special gem that is both a proper board game, and ready to play at high player-counts right out of the box.
Essentially a racing, set collection and hand management game, Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates has each of the players navigating three ships along three specific voyages. There are bonus points for the first player to have a ship reach Trinidad (which ends the game,) but the winner is not automatically the player who completes the journey in the shortest amount of time.
Along each of the three tracks (black, red and blue) there are merchant ships that carry goods in five different colours, as well as ports that can be used to trade those goods for treasure. The wealthiest merchants steer clear of the main shipping routes and players will need to head off the beaten path in order to secure their goods, but it can often be worth it.
Movement is achieved by playing cards from a starting deck of ten. The players each shuffle their colour coded decks and then draw five cards, playing three of them on each turn. Cards can be played either for their number value (1, 2, 3, or 4, for example) which allows a single ship to move that many spaces, or they can be played for their effect, which can often move all ships, or interfere with the plans of another player.
The players can expand their hand either by drawing cards from the Merchant Deck, which is possible only when a merchant ship is captured, or via the Port Deck, which offers a market of three face up cards to choose from. As new cards are added to the players decks, they may have the opportunity (through their First Mate, for example) to permanently discard cards that are weaker than others, thus improving and refining their overall capability.
In addition to taking a Port card, players can also trade in their stolen booty for Treasure Cards, which are dealt randomly at the beginning of the game based on player count. Each Treasure is worth a set number of victory points based on how hard it is to achieve, and a key strategy for winning Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is in understanding how best to plot your route to obtain the right goods in order to trade for Treasure, without falling too far behind.
As an optional module, players may also introduce pirate meeples, who will be placed onto the board in each port and can then add victory points in certain conditions. There are four pirates for each colour, and if a player either rescues their own pirate or captures a pirate belonging to someone else, that pirate will be worth a Victory point. On the rare occasions when a player can obtain a Treasure Card at a port with one of their own pirates in, then that pirate will be placed on top of the Treasure and will double its value.
There are essentially three strategies to chase after in Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates as far as I can tell, including racing to the end of the tracks as fast as possible, taking it steady and obtaining lots of treasure, or balancing the two. In general, I’ve found that the bonus points awarded across all three tracks collectively can be considerable, but a player who comes in the middle of the pack will easily win as long as they obtain a few Treasure Cards. The slow, thorough strategy seems to be too slow in most games, and I haven’t had much success with it.
One aspect that changes how you should think about playing is certainly player count, since the game feels very different at two players than it does at six. There are a few factors that play into this, but they certainly include things like the fact that there is no more cargo on the board to go after at six players than there is at two, which can make the six player variant a lot more like a straight race, and the two player game a lot more strategic.
None of this is a problem however, because the core deck building mechanic is very generous and rewarding. Players never have to pay to obtain Port or Merchant cards, and instead they simply choose them from the market or draw them respectively. Most cards in either deck are materially more powerful than those in the starter decks, and players who race directly towards Trinidad without obtaining new cards will certainly be caught up and overtaken by no later than the midway point of the game.
The whole of Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is presented beautifully, with a huge board that unfolds to depict the caribbean in glorious detail and colour. Fans of Sid Meier’s classic Pirates! will be in heaven here, such is the lavish way in which the cartoonistic 17th Century world is depicted. Small but very detailed plastic ships will sail along the clearly marked lines, and the cargo they’ll capture is also plastic and includes crate detailing to bring the experience to life.
Since the players will spend so much of their time staring at a hand of cards, it’s also fitting that the artwork is highly individual and very attractive. Sailors of all shapes, races, sexes and sizes are depicted, each with their own personality and set of quirks. From tall and muscular to slight and wily, the players will see their crew take shape before their very eyes, and younger players in particular will gain favourite crew members and begin to imagine a storied history for them.
Overall, Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates is an excellent family game that plays rapidly and features several aspects that are important gateway elements for more complex games. The deck building and hand management elements require thought and planning, whilst the set collection bit (trading in cargo for Treasure) comes with risk and reward, encouraging players to think both of the “upside” if their plan comes off, and also about what they’ll do if it doesn’t.
For all of these reasons, not to mention its beautiful production quality, I highly recommend Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates and would propose it as an ideal addition to any family game shelf.
You can purchase Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates through the Forbidden Games’ website.